Green Dot Program Encourages Bystanders to Intervene

Green Dot movement seeks critical mass

Bystander intervention”  and “sexual assault” have been buzzwords of 2014 as the nation continues to grapple with addressing and reducing power-based personal violence, which includes sexual violence, partner violence, stalking, elder abuse, abuse of those with disabilities, child abuse and bullying. St. Thomas is joining in this effort through Green Dot, a movement that seeks to gain a critical mass of students, staff and faculty who are willing to do their small part to actively and visibly reduce power-based personal violence on and around campus.

Green Dot, founded in 2009 by Dorothy Edwards, Ph.D. – a psychologist and professor of psychology at the University of Kentucky at the time – takes an inclusive approach to all victims of personal violence – men and women.

Deb Broderick of St. Thomas' Counseling and Psychological Services, head of the Green Dot faculty and staff committee, said Edwards saw that “men were sort of being shut out” in previous violence prevention programs. “By focusing on women as victims and men as perpetrators, essentially we just sort of pushed them aside and they weren’t part of any solution,” Broderick said. “Acts of violence happen to men, to women, to straight people, to gay people. It happens across the board.”

Edwards incorporated research on the bystander effect – a notion that indicates there are two or three bystanders for each act of violence that occurs – to create a movement that would encourage bystanders to intervene, or do a “green dot,” instead of allowing “red dots,” or risky behaviors leading up to violence, to go unchecked.

Broderick gave the example of seeing someone at a party or bar who is drunk and being taken advantage of. “There is a room full of people who see this and no one does anything because ‘We’re not supposed to’ and ‘It’s none of our business’ and all of those kinds of things,” Broderick said, “[but] what if all these bystanders did something – or at least one of them?”

Another example Broderick provided is a couple arguing heatedly with one person angrily grabbing the other. Broderick said a red dot would involve walking past the couple, assuming “It’s none of my business,” or “I don’t know what’s going on.” A green dot could be going up to the couple and intervening, especially if you know either person, or calling Public Safety. These actions may seem like going too far, but as Broderick said, “You’re not really in a position to know that.

“Maybe you don’t know anything about it. You walk past, you make a phone call, Public Safety comes out – nobody knows it’s you. Public Safety finds out it’s all OK, then everybody’s fine, but the message it sends to the person that was maybe getting intimidated is that, ‘Oh, somebody cares.’”

Broderick stresses involvement is necessary from everyone to create a safer campus.

“Even if I’m not a victim of some sort of violence, I likely know someone who is who may be close to me. It continues to affect me, and even if it doesn’t happen to me and it happens to my roommate, it could happen to me. So it’s in my best interest to try to reduce those numbers and to take an active part,” Broderick said.

Green Dot at St. Thomas

Green Dot came to St. Thomas after Rachel Harris of the Dean of Students Office participated in Green Dot Bystander Training at the Sexual Violence Center in Minneapolis in August 2011. She collaborated with ACTC schools to bring a national Green Dot trainer for a four-day training in July 2012. Broderick said about 15 St. Thomas faculty and staff members participated in the original training and that the national trainer will be back this June for joint training with Hamline and Macalester.

The training provides information on how to talk about Green Dot, how to market it and how to start a particular initiative, but the movement itself hinges on a bottom-up organization.

“We want to create this culture change and we don’t want it to be from top down … because that’s not how culture changes. Culture among students changes by students,” Broderick said.

To inspire this change in campus culture, UST Green Dot committee members give short presentations, usually ranging from 15 minutes to an hour, to student organizations, residence halls, departments, classrooms and other campus groups to educate students about bystander intervention and get the word out about Green Dot.

“Once they hear that one in three college students experiences some form of power-based personal violence, they can’t unknow that, and once we give them a few ideas about how they can take action in very small ways, they can’t unknow that either,” Broderick said.

UST Green Dot also offers full-day, intensive bystander training workshops to students twice a year. Students who are considered socially influential on campus are invited to the training with the hope that they will attend and tell other students about Green Dot.

The training walks students through recognizing red dots, familiarizing themselves with green dots and helping to reflect on their personal connection in working to reduce power-based personal violence.

The program is directed especially at students in leadership positions such as resident advisers, apartment coordinators and orientation leaders; a two-hour training session held at the Fall Leadership Institute last year will be repeated this August.

Other universities, such as the University of New Hampshire, have begun requiring bystander training for their student athletes in response to a study by United Educators that found athletes make up between 10 and 15 percent of the student population but account for 25 percent of assaults.

At St. Thomas, men’s hockey coach Duke Boeser is on the Green Dot committee, and other athletic coaches have received a presentation on bystander interventions.

“We haven’t done anything for specific teams because we don’t like it to be mandated – we’d rather this become something that people want to hear – but if coaches want their teams to hear about it, we’re more than glad to do it,” Broderick said.

In addition to presentations and trainings, Birdie Cunningham, Wellness Center health educator, heads a UST Green Dot marketing committee, which was formed last fall, composed of undergraduate students Therese Coughlan, Anna Hangge and Jennifer Gish, and Wellness Center graduate student Maryse Abrahams.

Coughlan, an RA in Dowling Hall, went through bystander training last fall and become involved with the committee this spring.

“[Training] made me realize how big sexual assault and violence actually are on the campus. I would have never guessed how prevalent it is, so I wanted to raise awareness,” Coughlan said.

The student committee provided information on Green Dot at the Night of Noise: Celebrating LGBTQ & Ally Identities at a UST event in April – also Sexual Assault Awareness Month – to raise awareness about the movement. The committee has plans in the works for next year.

For Coughlan, a goal of Green Dot is for students to just know what it is.

“If you know what it is and you’re aware of it, you can do green dots even if it’s simple, like talking about it,” Coughlan said.

After completing green dots, St. Thomas community members can add them anonymously to an interactive map.

“When we talk to classes, we leave by saying, ‘My challenge to you is to commit to doing one green dot over the next 24 hours,’” Broderick said. “[Green Dot] is incredibly doable – it’s just not hard.”

Those seeking more information can visit the UST Green Dot website.

Editor's note: St. Thomas is participating in a nationwide survey recently circulated by Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill to learn how universities handle sexual assaults and rapes.